Blackfeet Indian Reservation has been hit hard with negative news this week, as tangled conflicts between the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council members has led to increasingly public accusations of fraud and politically motivated feuds.
First, three former council members were indicted on charges they held illegal big-game hunts for a film crew and country music stars.
Jay St. Goddard, Jay Wells and Gayle Skunkcap Jr. pleaded not guilty to six felony counts that include conspiracy, the illegal sale of tribal wildlife, theft from a tribal government receiving federal funds and making false statements. They made a brief appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Keith Strong in Great Falls.
None of the musicians (which include Justin Moore and Josh Thompson) is facing any charges. Publicists for Moore and Thompson did not immediately respond to queries from the Associated Press.
On Wednesday, the Montana Associated Press reported on a set of protesters holding “Blackfeet Against Corruption” signs in state Senate chambers in protest of the presence of two Native lawmakers who are also council members.
. . .supporters of (Goodard, Wells and Skunkcap) and the other suspended council members are trying to call attention to what they call abuse of power by the ruling council members. Approximately two dozen supporters were at Monday’s opening of the legislative session to protest two council members who also are lawmakers, state Sen. Shannon Augare and Rep. Forrestina Calf Boss Ribs.
The protesters said they want to spread their message to the outside world and they see the legislative session as an opportunity to do so.
. . .
The tribal council said in a statement released by its attorney that politics has nothing to do with the charges.
“The fault lies totally in the hands of these three men who operated as if they were a law unto themselves,” the statement said.
St. Goddard was suspended from the council in March over the hunts, then impeached in June after tribal officials said he failed to show up for a hearing. St. Goddard said in a Sept. 8 video posted on YouTube that he was illegally impeached for speaking out against corruption.
“One of the reasons they removed me is probably just because they don’t like me because I spoke up a lot against things they were trying to do,” he said in the video.
The council appointed Roger “Sassy” Running Crane to replace him in July and appointed Sharp as chairman over the protests of St. Goddard’s supporters.
The next month, four council members led by tribal secretary Cheryl Little Dog, and including Wells, tried to wrest leadership of the council from Sharp and reinstate St. Goddard. But the coup failed, and Sharp, Calf Boss Ribs, Augare, Running Crane and Earl Old Person were recognized as the council’s leaders by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, according to the Glacier News, the Browning newspaper.
The five-member ruling faction suspended the four other members: Little Dog, Wells, Paul McEvers and William Old Chief. The remaining council members continued to operate after invoking emergency powers.
Protests erupted on the reservation, and the tribe requested additional security officers from neighboring reservations. The four suspended council members twice requested BIA intervention, but BIA officials at first could not get Sharp’s office to respond to calls, and then the chairman told officials the council desired no assistance.